Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Bones (2001)

MARCH 29, 2020

GENRE: REVENGE, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

As a huge fan of Demon Knight, I couldn't remember why I didn't see Bones (aka Ernest Dickerson's long awaited return to the horror genre) when it came out in theaters, so I took a quick check at the box office charts for the time and saw that it came out the same weekend as Thirteen Ghosts and K-Pax, both of which I saw instead (was basically dragged to the former, and as for the latter - I chalk it up to my crush on Mary McCormack). But I'm glad I didn't see it then, because at the time I hadn't seen any of the "blaxploitation" horror movies it was paying homage to, which provided some of the fun I got out of it now. Back then, Pam Grier's appearance would have probably yielded a "Hey it's better than Ghosts of Mars last month" type reaction, but now I can smile that her tarot-reading character was a bit of a nod to the mystical woman she played in Scream, Blacula, Scream, which is a much better movie to think about.

Unfortunately, it's also riddled with bad CGI for many of Bones' appearances, which I assume only looks worse now than it did almost twenty years ago and, more importantly, throws off the '70s throwback vibe it's going for. I don't know if Snoop Dogg couldn't offer enough of his time to play the part and forced the filmmakers to use a series of "Option B" solutions to fill in the gaps (I didn't use a stopwatch or anything but it sure seems he's on-screen much less than his younger, lower-billed co-stars), but every dodgy effect makes the film less effective, and since you see some pretty terrible ones in the opening sequence the movie never gets a chance to earn much goodwill on that front. If a movie has a few bad VFX near the end once we are hooked in then it's not too bad, but when they're telling us right up front "We kinda botched our monster" it's hard to get too invested.

It's also too slowly paced for its own good, which has one benefit I'll talk about soon but for the most part also made it very difficult to cement my interest. The basic story is simple (and somewhat generic) enough: Jimmy Bones (Snoop) was a hustler/number runner back in the 1970s and was murdered by a corrupt cop, his partner, and a rival dealer, who covered up his death and swore an oath to never tell anyone. 20 years later, some enterprising youths - who happen to be the children of one of Jimmy's murderers - accidentally uncover his corpse when renovating the building to turn it into a nightclub. Eventually he is revived with the help of a demon dog of some sort and the movie becomes a blend of Nightmare on Elm Street and The Crow, with Jimmy taking out the assholes who murdered him (sympathetic!) and also the youths who just wanted to make something of their lives (much less so!).

The confusing morality doesn't help much either; we kind of want to root for Jimmy since he was murdered and, for the most part, didn't seem like that bad of a guy (he was killed for NOT wanting to sell hard drugs in the neighborhood, so that's something), but he's also going after the club owner kids who never did anything wrong, putting him more in Freddy Krueger's territory than Eric Draven's. In one scene you're rooting for him to take out the asshole drug kingpin or slimy crooked cop, but in the next you're hoping he is stopped - it's just too disjointed. The flashbacks are doled out in chunks throughout the first hour (the point where Bones is finally fully resurrected, another for the "con" list - hell, it's almost 40 minutes before they even find his corpse), which keeps it afloat since you naturally want to know how he died, how the characters in the present day factored into it, etc, but since it's not particularly novel, it's hardly worth the wait. They might have been better off with a lengthy opening flashback - it least it would have kept the lame CGI off-screen for 20 minutes or so.

All that said, I was highly impressed with how damn weird the movie got at times (spoilers for 20 year old movie ahead!), so it's ultimately more or less worth the wait, and certainly wasn't as generic as the first hour lulled me into believing the rest would be. Bones doesn't just kill someone - he somehow uses his powers to rip off their heads but leave them with the ability to talk as he carries them to his lair, which is a giant wall of twisting blackened bodies that looks like HR Giger tackling that thing that grabbed Freddy at the end of Dream Master. And he feeds this thing the heads - one of which is still trying to bribe Jimmy into letting him... "live"? It's hilarious. There's also a kill where he murders two drug dealers at once; instead of showing the actual murder we watch a blank wall that is splattered with human outlines of blood, followed by the rest of the blood "coloring in" those outlines, which doesn't make any sense at all but it's a pretty neat visual.

However you feel about the movie, we can all agree that Scream Factory's blu-ray is pretty jam-packed. It carries over everything from the original DVD (a Platinum Series release!) and adds several new interviews, though none with Snoop, sadly. He is on the old commentary though, with Dickerson and screenwriter Adam Simon, though I think they all partook in his trademark stash as it's the mellowest goddamn track I've ever heard with three grown men sitting together. Usually this kind of setup results in a pretty spirited discussion, but they're all so quiet and soft-spoken it felt like they were recording it while their parents tried to sleep in the next room or something. As for the new ones, they got Dickerson, Simon, the DP, and the always great Tony Gardner, who reveals that the wall of bodies were using, among other things, Bruce Campbell's chin appliances! FX guys are always reusing things from their shop and such reveals delight me every single time (all time fave - the heart that they "pencil stake" in From Dusk Till Dawn is Jason's from JGTH).

All of the pieces are there to make a solid "Elm Street meets Candyman" kind of film, and I was surprised to see that the film rarely went for laughs (I knew it was Freddy-ish, but was thinking more of his jokey era than the earlier, darker version), but the weird pacing and confused "antihero" approach kept me at arm's length almost from the start. Dickerson gives the big scare scenes the energy you'd expect, and the kids are actually kind of fun in their way (Katherine Isabelle can't ever be boring, she's always "on" even in the background of shots), but ultimately my big takeaway was that my "eh, it's fine" reaction would have been even more subdued if I saw it in 2001. And not because it's aged all that well - it's because back then I wouldn't have caught all the references to better movies. Can't vouch for K-Pax, but I think I ultimately made the better choice with Thirteen Ghosts (which is also coming from Scream Factory!).

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Island of Terror (1966)

MARCH 19, 2020

GENRE: MONSTER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Scream Factory put Island of Terror out in June of 2017, and I won it at trivia that or the following month. I started watching it one night shortly thereafter, but didn't get far before falling asleep, and for whatever reason, didn't finish it the next day or whatever. And then it just disappeared for a while before I finally found it under my subwoofer, at which point I said "Oh good I can finally finish it!" and put it on my shelf... and then forgot about it again. Long story short, it's been almost three years since I started it, so I obviously had to start from the beginning as the only thing I remembered was that I was digging it so far.

"Luckily", like most Americans I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands, so I made it my first "I can't go anywhere so I'm gonna start making a dent in this endless pile of unwatched movies" selection. And I was happy to discover that the rest of the movie was as enjoyable to me as a newly christened 40 year old as the first 30-35 minutes that I saw in my thirties. In some ways it's a bit like a Quatermass movie; the heroes (Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, Eddie Byrne) are all doctors and thus men of science, using their intelligence to stop the threat instead of traditional weapons, and the monster, while interesting in concept, is goofy as all hell in execution. The "silicates", as they're called, are the result of an experiment designed to cure cancer using man-made cells that would attack the cancer in the host's body, but instead the cells became the creatures that are now attacking everyone on the "damn little island" (Cushing's words), which are seemingly invulnerable to explosives and other traditional means of attack.

Unfortunately they look something like a cross between a turtle and an ostrich, with a long "neck" type thing (and a point on the end instead of a head) coming out of a shell that wriggles its way along the ground. Granted, given the way that they were formed it wouldn't make much sense for them to take on a humanoid or traditional "monster" appearance, but I couldn't help but snicker every time they appeared. Also, the filmmakers had to cheat to make them more menacing; they somehow escaped from a completely locked down building, and then later they're able to climb trees and such despite not having any means of doing so. The flipside: they're all over the island, and there's a pretty great shock kill relatively early on when one falls on top of a character who seemed like a candidate for survival. So I can forgive the creative license, because otherwise the heroes would simply have to go upstairs and wait for the things to die of starvation, or keep doing stupid things in order to provide the film with its action.

Instead they do the smart thing! They lock themselves down in a smaller building, study the doctor's notes to find a way to fight them, etc. Cushing and Judd make a good team, too - Judd's a lot younger (five years previous, he was apparently a candidate for Bond) and from the way Judd's character is introduced it doesn't seem like they have much of a friendship (just fellow colleagues) but they banter and look out for one another, and even do small things like help each other take off their doctor's scrubs with a casual familiarity - it's the sort of thing that always charms me. And even with the goofiness of the monsters' appearance, there's no denying that they are indeed menacing, as the body count is rather high by the end. Even Cushing doesn't get away unscathed - Judd has to lop his hand off when a monster starts feeding on it.

Oh yeah, and the monsters suck out the bones of their victims, leaving them a rubbery puddle of flesh. Whatever failings the FX guys had for the monsters, they made up for it with their mushy corpses, they look pretty great for their time. Unfortunately, none of them are on the Blu-ray to talk about it, and for that matter no one else from the movie is either. By now almost everyone from the movie is dead (heroine Carole Gray seems to be the only exception, though she is long retired), so the only bonus feature is a rather snooty historian commentary by a guy who doesn't have much nice to say about it (other than that it's preferable to The Projected Man, which it was released on double feature with), though he thankfully actually has done research about it rather than rattle off filmographies like some of his peers. It's a decent enough listen, but I do wish he'd give it a little more credit than he offers; sure it has some script issues but it's still effective where it counts and offers another top notch turn from Cushing, seemingly relishing playing a charming hero in between Frankenstein movies. It's a "pile" movie I will be keeping, so take that, historian guy!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Silent Rage (1982)

MARCH 10, 2020

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, SLASHER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (FRIEND'S COLLECTION)

Almost a full ten years ago, I watched Hellbound, the Chuck Norris vs Satanists movie that stands out from his usual stuff on account of being horror adjacent. It wasn't very good, but the commenters told me I should give Silent Rage a try and, well, a decade later I have finally done that - hope those readers are still around to see what I thought! It's probably the only Norris movie I've seen since (not counting his cameo in Expendables 2), so I can't say how well it stacks against Invasion USA or Missing in Action or whatever, but I can say it's certainly better than Hellbound, not to mention a must-see for Halloween fans since the influence is more than readily apparent throughout.

And, painful as it might be to admit, it actually trumps Halloween in one tiny area: its opening tracking shot, while not overall as complicated, is actually done in one continuous take, or if there are cuts, they're hidden better (Halloween's has three cuts, one of which is pretty easy to see). The camera stays inside, but it moves in and around through various rooms and tracks multiple characters (it's not a POV like Halloween's, so we see everyone it involves) as our villain wakes up, calls his doctor, goes outside, grabs an axe, comes back, and starts attacking the people he lives with. With all the dialogue and movement, it's pretty impressive - even more so when you consider the director, Michael Miller, gave us the lifeless Class Reunion the same year. Guess he put more effort into making an actual slasher movie than he could muster for spoofing them?

That said, Miller has denied that there's any slasher influence here, claiming the film is more of his take on something like Frankenstein. He's not crazy - there are a couple of mad scientist types who use the body of the killer to try out their regeneration formula - but it's absurd to think that Halloween and its imitators weren't on his mind. The score is sting-filled (and electronic, so it's got a real Halloween II flair that's enhanced by the number of hospital-set scenes) and the tracking shots make it hard not to think about Carpenter's classic, even if you ignore that the film's villain is an murderous madman who seemingly can't be killed. Whether he likes it or not, some producer definitely envisioned "Chuck Norris fights Michael Myers" (Jason wasn't around yet) and that's how the movie came to life.

As for Norris, he's... well, he's Norris. He's never been a particularly interesting or charismatic performer, and this doesn't pose any challenge to that view. In fact you could practically remove him from the movie and it'd barely make any difference; he fights the killer early on, but it's the other cops who bring the villain down (which kicks off the plot, as he survives the shooting and is brought to the misguided doctors), and he is unaware of the resurrection until its final reel. He even disappears for a stretch as the film focuses on the trio of doctors: the two who are gung-ho for the experiment (one played by William Finley!), and the other who has more of a conscience and doesn't want any part of the experiment. Funnily enough, that "good" doctor is played by professional bad guy actor Ron Silver, as if to tell us "this is how wrong it is - even Ron Silver won't go along with it!"

Instead, Norris just kinda hangs out in the margins of the movie, waiting until the big finale where he will go toe to toe with the killer. For no other reason other than to give him something to do, we see a motorcycle punk harass him at a diner early on, prompting Norris to tell him to get out of town (why the guy opted to pick a fight with a sheriff in the first place is beyond me), so you know they'll fight later. Sure enough, a half hour later Norris and his partner (Stephen Furst) are driving along when Norris sees the guy's motorcycle parked outside a bar, and being that this is the 1980s he has no choice but to drop whatever he was doing, enter the bar, and proceed to beat the crap out of every dude inside. It's a pretty good fight scene, extraneous as it may be, but a better script would at least have him get hurt so he had a reason to go to the hospital and maybe stumble upon the experiment plot.

But no, he continues to be oblivious to it all; it's only really a coincidence that he manages to get involved in the third act. Silver's sister is Norris' girlfriend, so when Norris comes to get her for their weekend getaway she is in hysterics because the killer has just attacked Silver and his wife. From that point on he's a bit more proactive, but still - over an hour until the hero serves a plot function? It's not a surprise the screenwriter has no other produced credits. I swear it's like they added Norris into the movie the day before shooting, as you can easily see how his girlfriend might have been the protagonist in a tighter draft of the script. I suppose it's not even worth mentioning that it stretches beyond the expected 90 minute runtime for such fare, with that extra 10-12 minutes being pretty much exactly the amount of time they spend on Norris' bike gang "subplot".

Still, it's an amusing enough B-movie. Furst has some choice moments (an anecdote about how he accidentally froze his dog as a kid is pretty great), Frank Darabont regular Brian Libby as the killer is certainly imposing, and Finley is still a hoot in what counts as one of his more normal roles. And I like that the regeneration stuff is actually the point, so you can't exactly roll your eyes when the killer turns out to not be dead - of course he isn't! That's literally his thing! I also enjoyed the Texas backdrop (apparently, this was the first time Norris played a Texas lawman), which you didn't see all that much in this sort of thing. Also (spoiler for 38 year old movie ahead) Silver's body is hung on a door and I was incredibly impressed at his corpse acting, as he's not only on-screen for a while without moving (some of the other corpses in the movie blink/twitch) but the door he is hung on is opened/closed and he still manages to keep it straight! Goddamn he was good.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blumhouse's Fantasy Island (2020)

MARCH 2, 2020

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Normally I go see the genre films on opening weekend, but Blumhouse's Fantasy Island (yes, that's the on-screen title, which they also did for Truth or Dare, another Jeff Wadlow joint) came out the same weekend as Sonic, and as a dad, that had to take priority*. Likewise, I usually see movies "in order" (by release date), but the reviews and indifference to this film meant it seemed silly to wait on the ones I was looking forward to on the following weekends (Boy II and Invisible Man), so basically we can thank Super Tuesday for me finally having the time, as coverage of the event meant nothing to do at my day job, "forcing" me to use a paid day off and waste it on things like this.

I should note that I've never seen a frame of the old show, though I looked at a few "best episodes" lists and quickly discovered that Blumhouse making the big screen version wasn't as odd as it sounded, as the show seemingly dipped its toes into genre territory pretty often. Episodes revolving around ghosts, haunted mansions, and even Jack the Ripper kept coming up just as often as romantic themed tales during my cursory searches, so it would seem any studio (not just Blumhouse) would likely want at least some kind of spooky element in their adaptation. And it's pretty horror-lite compared to the other movies bearing the Blumhouse name; there's a supernatural explanation for the things on the island, but apart from the Hostel reject who torments Lucy Hale's frenemy (her fantasy is to get revenge on the girl who bullied her in high school) it's basically an action/adventure movie that occasionally tries to pull at your heartstrings.

And that's because of the five main characters, Hale is the only one whose fantasy lends itself to genre movie scenarios. The other woman (Maggie Q) doesn't even HAVE a fantasy, but eventually Mr. Roarke (the Ricardo Montalban role, played by Michael Peña) convinces her to see what would have happened if she said "yes" to a marriage proposal five years earlier. As for the three dudes, one of them wants to try living out a war fantasy since his dad was a soldier while he was rejected by the armed forces, and the other two just want to party with models (male and female; in addition to the nicely multicultural cast, one of the three men is gay, and his alpha male brother is very supportive of it). Things go sideways in all of these fantasies, of course, but none of them are really played for scares. If you cut the Lucy Hale bully stuff, there'd be almost nothing for Blumhouse to justify their posters for the movie, which were better than the film itself.

Before you think it, no, it's not the horror-lite result that left me indifferent to its narrative, because I knew that coming in. The problem is that the movie - which is just under two hours, for Christ's sake - takes too damn long to get to the part where it actually starts being fun, and it's too late to save it. Without spoiling the particulars, there are a couple of twists in the final half hour that had me laughing out loud, while also appreciating the cast for going all in on the nonsense and playing it straight - but it also left me wondering why they didn't just dive into this kind of insanity so much earlier. There's some minor "wait, is this part of the fantasy or is this an unrelated thing that's really happening" tension in the first hour (Roarke carefully explains that fantasies do not always play out the way they hope), but as the storylines go on, I quickly realized I didn't care either way - none of them, or their characters, were interesting enough to put much stock into whether or not the people were in real danger or how their lives might change as a result.

Hell, they couldn't even rope me in with "Dad Stuff", which is usually like shooting fish in a barrel for me (for non-longtime readers who are unaware, my father died when I was in my early 20s, long before I had a son of my own). The soldier guy ends up being on the mission that his father was on when he died saving his squad from a wayward grenade, giving him not only a chance to fight alongside his pops but also save him (though the time travel element of this is never explored), which is the sort of thing I'd usually eat up, but leave it to the consistently middling Wadlow (he also gave us Cry_Wolf and Kick-Ass 2; Truth or Dare at "eh, not that bad" is probably his best movie) to bungle even that much. And that was the best of its scenarios!

Until those silly reveals (one of which will have you realize that several scenes had a character acting innocent even when alone, which suggests a twist no one bothered to think through) the only other amusement the film really provided were the brief turns by Michael Rooker and Kim Coates, two men who are simply incapable of being boring. Rooker plays a reporter who went undercover to try to expose the island and is living in hiding in/around the compound to compile more evidence before signaling for a plane to come take him, while Coates plays the leader of the mercenaries who the soldier guy's dad is tracking. Coates actually manages the film's most intriguing idea with a single line: "How do you know that this isn't MY fantasy?" he asks one of our protagonists that he is currently terrorizing, which it very well could be since Roarke doesn't exactly come across as the most noble person in the world and thus might not really give a shit what his guests want as long as they pay up and don't blow up his spot.

Alas, nothing is done with the idea, and I still don't know if Coates' character is a real person or something dreamed up by the island's power. But, again, I don't really care either. Regardless of what genre it belongs to (to be fair it toys with just about all of them - it's a romantic action/adventure horror comedy with some sci-fi!), the characters or their fantasies simply aren't engaging enough to get too invested with how it ends up, and the twist, while delivering some unintentional laughs, isn't satisfying or particularly well explained (keeping it vague for spoilerphobes, so for those who have seen the movie: try to imagine the meeting between _______ and Roarke when the former pitched their *actual* fantasy). That'd be frustrating enough for an 80 minute movie, but when you're asking for just under two hours, you gotta deliver more than a handful of laughable plot turns to even qualify as "so bad it's good" kind of entertainment. And yes, while it's not always the case the PG-13 rating does indeed hurt the film here - pretty chaste fantasies considering you can have whatever you want, people!

What say you?

P.S. There's some evil black goo here, so I hope Blumhouse makes another PG-13 reboot/remake/re-whatever that has it so we can get a trilogy with this and Black Christmas.

*I was doubly excited since it was the first live action movie he's ever wanted to see. Finally, a crack in the ice! Maybe I can take him to a Marvel movie this or next year!

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Invisible Man (2020)

FEBRUARY 28, 2020

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

There's a sequence in The Invisible Man that operates a lot like the majority of A Quiet Place, where our protagonist (Elisabeth Moss) is doing several things that would normally produce sound but she has to do them in total silence, lest she be attacked, and in turn makes you the viewer not want to make a single sound (I vividly remember a lady trying desperately to quietly remove her coat for Quiet Place; I felt guilty when I shifted in my chair and it squeaked here). The inevitable moment when she DOES accidentally cause a commotion yields one of the best jolts I've experienced in quite some time, and it's all the more impressive that it's the very first sequence in the film. I didn't realize it at the time, but that the film opens this way, sans any introductions or prologue, is a key element to why the movie works as well as it does, though getting into the specifics requires spoilers so I'll get back to that in a few paragraphs (and warn you ahead of time).

Because of my undying loyalty to John Carpenter and Chevy Chase I've been making a lot of jokes about how this new movie is a slap in the face to the "original Invisible Man" (Memoirs was released exactly 28 years ago today, in fact - guess they're not superstitious), noting that they turned Chevy's character into an abusive jerk and probably never showed him chewing gum, but what I didn't realize is that Leigh Whannell's script would be ignoring the other (read: actual) version as well. It may be touted as Universal reviving its classic monster, but unlike their Wolfman remake from 2010, there are no almost no similarities to their old film, nor do they even credit HG Wells' novel with the writing credits. The title character's last name is Griffin (though the first name has changed from Jack to Adrian), but it almost seems like a little homage as opposed to a genuine attempt to present a new take on the character, and that's as close as it gets to a similarity. The science stuff is minimized, he has no allies or anyone trying to cure him, and - sorry, body count enthusiasts - he does not derail a train or cause any other massive chaos.

No, this time it's a personal, psychologically driven story that takes place almost entirely from the perspective of Cecilia (Moss), Griffin's wife who has decided to escape from him and his abusive ways (that's what she's doing in the opening scene, if you haven't connected those dots). Having hidden this pain from her only support unit (her sister and a cop whose connection to her is never quite made clear; Wiki says he's a childhood friend though), they take her word for it why she had to leave him, and she starts putting her life back together. But then he allegedly kills himself and leaves her a large inheritance, payable in monthly installments as long as she doesn't commit any crimes or be found to be mentally unfit, and that progress shatters. Within days, she is seemingly disqualified on the latter grounds, as she keeps claiming that she is being watched, and that Adrian isn't dead but has found a way to become invisible and continue menacing her. Naturally, the belief her friends had can only stretch so far - she is being gaslit by Adrian (and/or his brother, the lawyer that laid out the rules) while her friends start to wonder if she is crazy - or perhaps, was simply gaslighting them and making up an abuse story.

(OK THIS IS WHERE THE SPOILERS START)

And this works beautifully, because we indeed never see Adrian being abusive, going only on her word that he was* and never really doubting it. It's only her say-so (and Moss' slam dunk performance) that tells us what kind of man Adrian is/was, because we never see it for ourselves, which makes this a kind of ultimate "believe women" story. Anyone who has been online for the past few years has undoubtedly seen someone reply "where's the proof?" when a celebrity is accused of this or that awful thing, because they just refuse to believe the person saying it, and here we have a heightened example - they quickly believe the abuse stories, but won't believe that he's invisible and that she's not responsible for the chaos he inflicts (using her computer to write a nasty email to her sister, stealing her portfolio out of her briefcase so she looks crazy at her job interview, etc), putting her in the same predicament as any number of real life women.

The kicker is that we know she isn't crazy, because Whannell doesn't delay that answer - we see the Invisible Man's breath forming and a knife being flung off a counter pretty early on, albeit without her seeing anything either for a while. The villain simply chooses not to let his presence be known to anyone else, so it's not a question of "is she crazy?" - Whannell just found a way to make us fully understand her mental frustration (I'd compare it to the backwards unfolding of Memento re: getting us to understand its protagonist's mind). It's sort of leveling up the scenario women have to face all the time, using the language of horror movies (and one of the bonafide "classic monsters") to - in a relatively subtle way - get doubting types in the audience to understand how vexing it can be to have no one believe you, because we get to be witness to things no one else can see (including Cecilia), and spend 90 minutes hearing everyone say it's not true. It get kind of frustrating, because that elusive "proof" has been in plain sight to us but we can't convince anyone to believe us - not unlike a woman claiming she's been abused by (name a public figure who people will defend because they don't want to believe it). It's essentially a lesson in empathy, one that will hopefully have you think twice next time you hear about abuse and your kneejerk reaction is to think the person is lying.

(END SPOILERS)

Luckily, if you're not in the mood to think about the abuse metaphor and just want a standard invisible man thriller, it delivers on that front as well. Due to the nature of its plot he can't quite cut loose almost right from the start like Claude Rains' Griffin did (everything has to be potentially explained as her doing), but when he does Whannell brings it, with an effective mix of lo-fi old-school techniques (i.e. gifted actors pantomiming) and some digital trickery. Nothing as state of the art as Memoirs or Hollow Man (this IS a Blumhouse film after all, so it has a small budget used efficiently, not a huge budget wasted on nonsense), but there are some very nice visual FX shots scattered throughout, such as when she tosses a paint can at him and the splatter only reveals a small percent of his body. There's also a fun long take sequence where various security guards keep showing up, seeing the chaos that occurred before they got there, assuming it's her doing, then getting the surprise of their lives (which may be about to end) before the process repeats, making you wonder just how many people need to show up before anyone believes her invisible man stories. And he gets a ton of mileage out of merely letting his camera drift or cut to an empty corner of the room, without ever telling us whether or not Adrian is actually there (I mean, the jerk's gotta go eat and pee and sleep sometimes, right? We're never told for sure).

The cast is also great across the board. Moss is in pretty much every frame and she absolutely nails it (she's come a long way from The Attic, in which she also played a woman who believes someone is trying to kill her, funnily enough), but her supporting cast is no slouch either. Aldis Hodge continues to impress, playing the only decent man in the movie, and I was instantly charmed by Harriet Dyer as Cecelia's sister, who lands the movie's best line when the two go out for dinner and she shoos the annoying waiter away without missing a beat. As for Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the title character, he naturally doesn't get too much screentime, but he makes the most of what little he has - we don't need to see the abuse to recognize a man that has impulse issues. And if you're a fan of Whannell's Upgrade (and why wouldn't you be?) you'll enjoy both a nice Easter Egg to that film's world as well as a brief turn by Benedict "Fisk" Hardie as a potential employer.

This film began life as one of Universal's stupid "Dark Universe" movies, and would have starred Johnny Depp (and maybe Tom Cruise and/or Russell Crowe stopping by), and I can't help but think with Depp in the role they would have copied Carpenter/Chevy and shown him as often as possible (either through disguises/makeup or just Carpenter's seemingly exclusive idea to just trust the audience to remember he's supposed to be invisible), and - if Mummy is any indication - it would have been a supernaturally charged action movie instead of the actual horror movie we want to see with these characters. So while I never root for a movie to fail, I'm glad Mummy tanked, forcing them to abandon that idea and start over (as for Depp, well, the reason they'd want to get rid of him too is a rich irony I suppose, given the movie's themes), because what we got instead is a suspenseful, timely horror-thriller that maximizes the potential for its villain and proves once and for all that the classic monsters can indeed be brought back for modern audiences when placed in the right hands.

What say you?

*He angrily chases after her when she tries to escape, and smashes the window of her sister's car trying to get her to stop, but considering she drugged him to get away in the first place makes it a sort of gray area example. From her sister's perspective they're basically attacking each other, since she wasn't informed about the abuse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

FEBRUARY 21, 2020

GENRE: PUPPET, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As a fan/defender of 2016's The Boy, I was excited and a bit vindicated when STX announced a sequel in 2018, and have been patiently waiting for it to come out ever since. Alas, four years is a long damn time to wait for this sort of thing as it's not exactly Star Wars or Avengers; I think 18 months is really the max that any studio should wait before putting out a sequel to a mid-level hit such as that one was, because people just forget about it. And that's especially true in this case, because the first film relied on a big twist in the third act to make up for what was a fairly slow first 75 minutes, making it the sort of movie that doesn't lend itself to repeat viewings. Well, at long last, Brahms: The Boy II is here and... oof.

In my review of the first film I was careful not to give away its twist, but it's been four years so I'm going to do that now as I assume you know or simply don't care: Brahms the doll was not alive, but Brahms the thought-dead boy was still alive and now an adult living in the walls of the manor for the past twenty years, turning the film into a low-key masked slasher film for its final reel. To me, that was what made the movie work as well as it did, as you spend the entire thing wondering if the main character was going crazy or if the doll really was alive like Chucky or the Puppet Master toys, only to discover that it was a third option you likely didn't consider. But now that we know that, how do you do a sequel that focuses on the doll again, since we live in a world where the Annabelle sequels clean up but the masked slasher movies tank? Apparently, the answer that the creative team and producers - all of whom return from the first film, mind you - came up with is "Fine, the doll is alive."

So Brahms the flesh and blood man does not return in this film, nor does it fully embrace the slasher-ness that it had to hide last time around. Instead, a new family led by Katie Holmes moves in to the guest house next door to the original big mansion, their son finds the doll in the woods that separate the two homes, starts acting creepy with it, etc. So any fan of the original is just waiting for the real Brahms to reveal himself, but he never does, though at least some of that unwelcome surprise is dulled by the 40 minute mark or so, as that's around when we see the doll move (only slightly, to be fair) in one of the rare scare scenes that aren't the result of Holmes' character having a nightmare. Worse (spoilers ahead, because I don't care this time), the backstory we get a little while later retcons the original, chalking the real Brahms' behavior up to possession by the doll, and then going back and showing how that his family was just one of several to live there and meet with tragedy, always blaming the doll for the murders and accidents.

Quite frankly, this sort of revisionist approach sucks, and stinks of the same over-complicated mythology that made the first two Annabelle movies such a slog (the third, where they finally just let Annabelle be creepy and put her alongside other evil things, is the best). A disturbed child attaching himself to a doll is interesting, but a doll continuously possessing family after family over a hundred plus years is not. It just feels like a way to turn this into an ongoing franchise (with prequel possibilities), which is somewhat expected for any horror sequel (no one wants to stop with just part 2) but not if it had to come at the expense of what worked about the original. It feels like jumping from the first Halloween to Curse of Michael Myers, but worse because at least John Carpenter and Debra Hill didn't have anything to do with that one. Why do the people who made The Boy suddenly want to shit all over The Boy?

Making things even more frustrating is the fact that William Brent Bell and Stacey Menear seemingly lay the groundwork for another real-world explanation for the film's events. In the opening sequence we see Katie Holmes come home from work, activate a security system, and then facetime with her husband about how he will be working late again. So when she's woken up in the middle of the night by a pair of robbers, one could reasonably deduce that the hubby hired some guys (or is one of the masked robbers himself, having lied about working) to attack his wife in order to get an insurance payout, or even kill her to be with another woman (with the kid being a wild card), as evil movie husbands often do. Other events in the movie that are chalked up to the doll (or the kid) could have been the husband (in fact in one instance it would make a hell of a lot more sense than what we're ultimately told), and had they gone that route, it would have allowed for another twist (albeit a less surprising one) and retained the established "no supernatural hooey" rule from the first.

But no, dad's not an evil jerk, he really does just work late and we are never given an explanation for how the two robbers managed to bypass the security system that Bell and his editor (Brian Berdan, also returning from the original) took the time to establish, or what they wanted, or why they tried to kill Holmes (she actually seems dead*) but left the kid alone. As for why the man is conveniently absent every time Brahms does something naughty, I can only guess Bell/Menear wanted us to suspect him so they could pull an inverse of the first film's reveal (so going from "not a ghost - a real killer!" to "not a killer - a real ghosts"), but it doesn't work on any satisfying level, and it's never a good idea to retcon an earlier movie unless you know for a fact you're improving on it. It's not the first time a horror sequel felt made by people who never saw the previous entry, but it's certainly the first time it was actually made by the exact same people.

Honestly, I can't think of anything that works here. The young lad is effectively creepy when he starts dressing as Brahms, and I can give them a bit of credit for allowing a child to get injured in the movie's only real horrific act (even though it was spoiled on the trailer), but a few sprinkled bright spots can't make up for a film that's somehow even more slowly paced than the first one (unforgivable for a sequel) and actively goes out of its way to sweep its events and reveals under the rug. I could maybe just roll my eyes and forget about it if this was The Boy IX: Brahms Goes To Hell and they were grasping at straws, but this is only part 2 to a movie that didn't need a sequel in the first place. My unending affinity for Katie "Joey Potter" Holmes isn't nearly enough to overcome the film's uninteresting narrative decisions, near total lack of suspense, and - worst of all - seeming desire to tell me I was wrong to appreciate the first film's lack of supernatural elements.

What say you?

*When they cut to a few months later and Holmes was up and about, I spent a few minutes thinking this might be a Sixth Sense thing and she'd be a ghost the whole time, but it's quickly clear she's not as the kid's shrink addresses them both. She's just left with headaches from the ordeal, presumably to allow us to think she's just cracking up. But upon rewatching the first one this week as a refresher, I realized that the two main males in the movie were named Malcolm and Cole - the same as the two leads in Shyamalan's classic, so as dumb as it would have been to pull that twist here, at least "they both pay homage to The Sixth Sense" would give the two Boy films more in common than they actually have now.

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Pack (1977)

FEBRUARY 17, 2020

GENRE: PREDATOR
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)

You never know what you might be in for with a post-Jaws killer animal movie. They might lean too heavily into aping Spielberg's classic, leaving you to spend the entire viewing wishing you were just watching Roy, Robert, and Richard do their thing instead. Or they might try too hard to make it stand out, resulting in an unsatisfying mess that serves no master. But some of them hit that sweet spot, where you're able to get into it enough to forget that it was probably greenlit by someone saying "What if Jaws but with a (different animal)?", and I was happy to discover that The Pack falls into that category.

The movie has been on my radar for years, but has never been given a decent DVD release (only a full frame one from Warner Archive) so never got around to it, settling for... er, The Pack (2015), which is not a remake but has a similar plot. I also bought a paperback book called The Pack a while back, thinking it was the one that inspired this movie, only to discover that it was a different one which had an even more similar plot (the one I got was written by William Essex; the one this movie was based on is by David Fisher). So I was happy to finally get a chance to see the one I wanted, on 35mm at the New Beverly, via slightly faded but otherwise solid print and with a bunch of good folks next to and around me. All that was left was to see if it was worth the wait.

And it was! It was thankfully not very Jaws-like, focusing on about ten people instead of just a few, isolating the action to a single weekend, and (best of all) staying away from any kind of "close the beaches" type subplot, opting for something closer to survival horror as they get trapped on the island and a storm knocks out their radio tower. Even better, there were no evil humans to distract away from the true threat of the feral dogs, so even when it briefly becomes a Night of the Living Dead/Assault on Precinct 13 kind of thing where our heroes have holed up in a house as the dogs try to get in on all sides, it's all about them working together and protecting one another instead of in-fighting.

Which is a good thing, because the dogs themselves are well trained but rarely get the opportunity to display much on-screen carnage. The body count isn't particularly high, and of that group, only two people are shown being attacked - the others die off-screen or basically get themselves killed as the dogs chase them without ever really interacting. If director Robert Clouse opted to make up for it with some asshole humans, it would weaken the overall threat that the dogs still posed, I think. Thanks to the relatively big cast of characters, it's always pretty tense because pretty much all of them could be a goner. There's hero Joe Don Baker, his girlfriend, their kids (one each from previous relationships), three local guys, and a group of city folk in "town" for a fishing excursion - and this being the '70s, you can't exactly be assured even the kids would be safe (I already mentioned Precinct 13, if you recall). There's an attack on the girlfriend at around the halfway point that really had me going (visions of The Car danced through my head), and that uncertainty lasted throughout the film's tight 95 minute runtime.

Even more surprising: Baker was pretty good! I'm more familiar with him as a heavy (Fletch, Living Daylights) or kind of a sidekick/comic relief type (Goldeneye/Tomorrow Never Dies, Mars Attacks), and I've never seen Walking Tall so when he's the hero I'm used to a guy and two robots making fun of him the whole time ("Mitchell."), but I found him to be a solid everyman type here. His character's job as a marine biologist never really comes into play (despite the island setting, he never even steps into the water), but he's a good dad to the two kids, loving to the girlfriend, and capable when it comes to fighting the dogs - it doesn't require an action hero type to play, just someone who can pull off those things when necessary, without looking silly.

The rest of the cast is good too, particularly Richard B. Shull as Baker's right hand man, who has the best possible role in one of these things: the guy you are absolutely sure will die and keeps getting in the thick of it, making you worry about him more than anyone else. I wish I could say the same for RG Armstrong, who is always great but has kind of a nothing role as the other island guy, who gets in a few good lines at the expense of the city people but otherwise serves no function and doesn't even get an actual final scene - his character rows away for help, has a heart attack or stroke, and gets rescued - but since Baker and the others take care of the dogs themselves and the movie ends there, it's not even clear if he ever woke up and told the guys who rescued him to send help to the island. I don't think he ever even encounters a dog! Also, if you're an Office Space or Cheers fan, you will enjoy a young Paul Willson (one of the Bobs in the former, Paul on the latter) as Tommy, the son of the city guy who just wants to read and look at birds even though his dad's secretary is throwing herself at him (at the dad's request, creepily enough).

As for the mutts, they are a mixed group, not all pit bulls or dobermans or whatever. The main one is a mutt, there's a Collie (Lassie, no!), a labrador, etc - in fact of all the common "big dog" types the only one I *didn't* notice was a St. Bernard, which is kind of funny considering how they would get a lock on evil movie dog breeds just a few years later. But there are also two good dogs to care about so you know the movie isn't just total anti-pooch. One is Baker's dog, who gets hurt early on but recovers and protects his people whenever the need arises. The other belongs to a vacationing family who returns to the city, a minor subplot that clarifies where all the dogs come from: people get dogs for their summer vacations there, and then leave them behind when it's time to return home, figuring they'll be found by someone else. Alas, they're not, and they turn feral and try to eat Joe Don Baker and his friends. Anyway, this dog wanders around a bit, joins the evil dogs for a while but never does anything bad as far as we know, and (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) is spared by Baker, who gives it some crackers in the film's closing scene, producing the greatest freeze frame to credits I've seen in ages.

Besides being full-frame, I assume the Warner Archive DVD is of decent quality if you want to see it for yourself, but hopefully Scream Factory or one of their peers can get their hands on it and do it right. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a really solid suspenser with a likable cast that milks its premise for all it's worth. Apparently it has very little to do with the book, which is fitting considering the aforementioned "no, different The Pack" confusion, but what they come up with worked really well for what it was, and was worth the drive to the New Bev (and presumably better than Fantasy Island, which is what I was originally going to see until seeing the Bev tweet that the movie was playing), as I usually only go when I can head over directly from work (15 min drive) instead of home (45-50 min drive). And I had a delicious ginger beer while I watched! A victory all around!

What say you?

P.S. The theater showed a truly strange instructional film about eating beforehand, which was quite fitting as it reminded me of the ones they would show on MST3k ("Mitchell.") when the movie was too short to fill the two hour block. It had nothing to do with dogs, but it starred Robert Benchley - grandfather of Peter, which I assume was the reason it was chosen. I was unable to find it online, but rest assured if it ever appeared on MST3k there wouldn't be much need for them to quip, as it was plenty funny on its own.

PLEASE, GO ON...

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